Sugar Babies: College tuition in exchange for 'companionship'

(WTOL) - It's no secret that many adults nationwide are struggling with student loan debt. But a growing trend to help students graduate debt free has some people shocked.

They're called "sugar babies."

More and more young people are using websites to connect with older people online. The so-called "sugar daddies" help pay for college, trips and more in exchange for "companionship."

Bowling Green State University ranks among the top 70 schools in the nation for the number of students on, which makes money off connecting sugar babies with older sugar daddies.

Most are looking for sex.

"I mean, a lot of guys who are dating traditionally on regular dating sites anywhere, they want sex, they're expecting sex, they want that at the end of the night." said Brook Ulrick, a spokesperson for the website. "And there's really nothing wrong with kind of being open about that."

According to another spokesperson for the site, Bowling Green State University ranks at 63 in the nation for the number of students on the site.

Behind BGSU, The Ohio State University and The University of Toledo also have students up on the site.

One of the BGSU students on the site says she doesn't see anything wrong with it.

"I've been taken to lunch, I've been taken shopping," said the student who identifies herself as Jade. "I actually went on a vacation."

Even though she works two jobs, Jade couldn't pay her tuition one semester. And a man she met on the site paid it for her.

"He's a friend, and he knows I love school," she said. "So he did that for me."

Jade says she does get intimate with some of the men she meets; others are just friends.

A sugar daddy, identified only as Steven, says sex is almost always an expectation.

"The intimacy angle of it is there," he said. "It's important, even though it's not everything."

But when asked, he stopped short of calling it an escort service.

"We do a lot of things together that you wouldn't do with an escort," Steven said. "For example, I took my sugar baby to Paris."

Steven says none of his sugar babies tell their parents what they're doing. And when asked if he would be okay with his own son being a "sugar baby," he said no.

He said he would be afraid his son "might be taken advantage of."

"Honestly, that might bother me, yeah," said Steven. "And I fully realize that's duplicative of me."

Deborah Stoll, the Director of H.O.P.E. Center in Toledo, disagrees with Steven and says it most closely relates in her mind to an escort service.

"We are talking young, vulnerable people," said Stoll. "Away from home, making decisions on their own."

Stoll says college students could get themselves into potentially dangerous situations.

"Usually the customer is a male. He's older; He has money. He has power and control," said Stoll.

Jade admits a couple of men she's met through the site were controlling.

"I did meet someone once who thought he had all this power, and he was very mean," said Jade. "He started off very nice, and the more I got to know him, he was just mean. And he was demanding.

Deborah Stoll, who counsels sexual assault victims and former sex workers says this type of arrangement could lead to situations young people are not prepared for.

"If you're in that situation, where someone is paying you, and there's no one around to help you if something does go wrong, you're often forced to do things that are no longer consensual," said Stoll.

Jade says she first found out about sugar daddy websites from an article in SEVENTEEN magazine. She says her mother knows she's on the site and thinks it's just a phase.

As for her father and step-father? She hasn't told them.

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